An Alaskan entrepreneur is building a sustainable energy-powered greenhouse in Alaska to grow produce year-round.
Editor’s Note: First in an ongoing series of reports on sustainability and food security in the far north.
Mike Craft takes a break to explain his latest project while his crew sets another steel I-beam in place on the frame of a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse his company is building near the town of Delta Junction, in the eastern Interior of Alaska.
“We’re going to be growing lettuce and microgreens and kale in here,” he said.
Craft is a builder and managing partner for Alaska Environmental Power. He’s constructing the greenhouse on the 320-acre Delta Wind Farm, where he’s erected three large wind generators that produce up to 2 megawatts of power. He sells most of that output to the regional electrical co-op. And he’ll use a fraction of it to run the lights and climate control system in the greenhouse.
“The only reason it’s possible is because we have electricity coming off the turbines behind us,” he said.
Craft says he’ll hold down costs by not buying power from the co-op, which generates about 90 percent of its power with fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Those fuels cost more in Alaska than just about anywhere else in the United States, due mainly to high transportation costs.
“This is about economics. Me, making a living growing lettuce, and the community gets access to organic, local-grown lettuce that’ll be super-fresh in the wintertime.”
Craft says he’s a businessman who’s bullish on sustainable energy for both its economic and environmental benefits. He says growing locally will enable him to avoid the high transportation costs that comes with bringing in produce from the Lower 48. And it’ll improve Alaska’s food security.
“Y’know being green pays. Whether it’s conservation at your house, or whether it’s figuring out a way to pull energy out of the environment around you and convert that energy to some kind of industrial process.”
Alaskans can offer that the kind of ingenuity to help their Arctic neighbors deal with high energy and transportation costs, says Gwen Holdmann, who directs the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
“The advantage that we have here in Alaska is that we have all kinds of different resources available to us, both fossil and renewable resources,” Holdmann said. “The specialized expertise that Alaska has developed is integrating all these different kinds of systems and energy sources.”
Craft says he hopes to complete his greenhouse in time for the spring-planting season.